Technology on the Trail: Using Cultural Probes to Understand Hikers

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Virginia Tech

The definition of technology may have changed quite a bit over the years, but people have been bringing technology to remote, natural locations since long before concepts like recreational hiking or national parks existed. Nowadays, "digital" is usually implied before the word technology, and discussion of technology and trails often revolves around smartphones and GPS systems. However, a wide variety of hiking gear has benefited from precise engineering and product design.

Even with more digital products hitting the shelves, many hikers go out on the trail to get away from or limit their use of technology, however they may define that word. Before any technology for the trail can be designed, the diverse perspectives of hikers must be explored rather than taking them for granted. Polling hikers through digital means or even delivering prototypes for research through design seems disingenuous when part of the target audience has negative attitudes towards technology. For this reason, cultural probes stood out as a useful method for understanding hikers and inspiring future directions for Technology on the Trail. The heart of the matter is indeed a question of culture, so probes are a logical choice for teasing out a variety of viewpoints.

The goal of this study is not to design new technology. Rather, the goal is to find a way to make technology and nature more harmonious in the context of hiking. This could end up requiring new designs, but it could also be a matter of shifting perspective instead. No device or gear will ever be for everyone, and that's natural. Technology on the Trail can still seek to support both users of technology and the bystanders who are affected by the technology use of others.

Technology, Hiking, Trail, Cultural Probes, Human-Computer Interaction